Let There Be Jobs

 In News

The cling of coffee cups and people chatter fill the space at the Clay Cup Coffee shop on 11th Ave. in Altoona. The place is packed with a mix of folks from all backgrounds and ages. I am there to talk marketing strategy with a young start-up. “I saw an opportunity to help sell products that weren’t selling well through traditional channels,” said Tyler Conrad, who at just 18 started TCON Products, an online wholesale site. He specializes in local products that struggle to sell through traditional methods. Now from his home-based business in Altoona, he reaches a global market. “There are many local products that we market and sell to a global customer base from right here in Altoona,” Conrad added.

Later that day I joined Tyrone native John Russell at Railroad City Brewing just up the block. At the ripe old age of 23, John became a serial entrepreneur who started numerous franchise businesses. “Our operation was in Pittsburgh when I asked, why are we here? Do we need to be?” Russell said. The answer was clearly no and in 2014 at the age of 31, he and much of his growing team moved back to Tyrone, purchased four buildings on main street and set up operations. “Tyrone is now home to our holding company EMG Brands, Green Home Solutions and our customer contact operations which support their franchise operations. We expect to grow to more than 100 team members in the next year or two,” Russell said.

At the other corner of the brewery, Kevin Evans, with smart phone in hand, divides his attention between the menu selection and incoming emails. It’s 6:30 pm but he is always connected. That is why when he submitted his resignation to UPMC’s IT department in Pittsburgh in favor of moving back to his hometown, UPMC did not accept it. Rather they offered him a work from home option and he took it. “I did not expect that to be an option, but in the end, it makes sense. I can concurrently manage 5 to 6 large IT projects and more than 60 development resources throughout Western PA remotely and now from my basement office in Hollidaysburg,” Evans added.

Jobs are where you find them or make them. And increasingly that “where” is “here.” Things are changing globally and that change is making its way to the First Frontier Blair County. While we sometimes hear the “there are no jobs here” refrain, the data and trends are telling another story.

In these new places like the Clay Cup, Railroad City and many others springing up on our mountain main streets, next generation faces and entrepreneurs are filling in. They are either joining many of our existing growing businesses, working remotely, or starting up on their own as freelancers. The Freelancers Union is one of the fastest growing trade groups focused on this emerging part of the workforce.

Let’s look at the numbers.

Between 2010 and 2015, overall net new employment in Blair County grew by 1.1 %. While not a high job growth rate, payroll increased by 14.3% during the same period. Even the manufacturing sector here added overall new jobs at 1.7% with a 17.8% payroll increase. Nationally the Institute for Supply Management reported that its manufacturing index rose to 57.8 last month from 54.9 in May. Anything above 50 signals that factory activity is increasing. The measure now stands at its highest level since August 2014, pointing to solid economic growth.

While net new jobs are growing slowly, it’s a retirement boom that is creating the greatest demand for jobs.  Since 2010 more than 3,200 people hit retirement age. Between 2017 and 2020, it is expected that an additional 4,000 will leave the labor force. Most anticipate that at least 80 percent of these jobs will be filled with a higher skill set and higher starting pay.

Given our demographics and migration rates, most of the people will likely come into Blair County from outside the region to fill these jobs, bringing new ideas, points of view and expectations. That is both the challenge and opportunity for economic development.

Mountain communities like ours are in play like never before. The next generation is able to choose places that match their lifestyle and station in life often ahead of a job. Technology has enabled anyone access to global markets at the touch of a button. If they have the skill set, employers of all types and sizes will work to accommodate. In the last 5 years, Blair County has welcomed more than 600 people in the key age cohort of 25 to 29; a trend we expect to continue.

Our job is to be welcoming, ensure we have the best broadband, housing and creative environment that help people to become rooted or re-rooted right here. We are encouraging our local firms to think about aligning both culture and skill-set when searching for new employees. For instance, a person looking for high-rises and traffic jams may not like it here.

We want to hear from you. If you are a returning “boomerang,” “first-timer” or would like to be, contact us with your story, email me at stevem@abcdcorp.org. Like our Facebook Page at First Frontier Blair County www.facebook.com/altoonablaircounty. If you would like to include a link to our website to your website, contact Matt Fox at mattf@abcdcorp.org.

The new jobs story is unfolding now. Opportunities look very different from those in the past. It’s dynamic and creating new businesses of all shapes and sizes.

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